What’s Growing in Brooklyn?
One writer takes in the Barclays Center experience for the first time.
“Do you see the guy wearing the gray hoodie and the blonde work boots? That’s him!” – Brooklyn Nontraditional
Attending a sporting event is a participatory experience that greatly enhances our ability to interact with the games we love. As a lifetime basketball aficionado growing up in New York City, attending Knicks and Nets games were always the biggest deal; my mother could only afford Knicks tickets to go once or twice a year, usually as birthday presents to me. Sometimes, my high school received donated group tickets to sit in the rafters; that never mattered, the ability to soak in the NBA experience was always reward enough.
On Friday, November 23, my brother Sam and I set off to attend our first Brooklyn Nets game, with my mother’s Section 19 season tickets face-valued at $250 each. The Nets utilize a dynamic pricing model: when the Lakers come to Barclays, our seats are worth $325, while the Raptors game is valued at $155. Regardless, that’s still an incredulous amount of money to consume a basketball game, especially in the mecca of free pick-up basketball, smack dab in the middle of Brooklyn where poverty’s mangled roots still run deep.
Before the game, I refused to succumb to Barclays’ concessions trap, so we stopped off at a local midgrade fast-food Mexican spot called Yummy Taco for a delicious $6 meal. Yummy Taco is somehow operated effectively by a Chinese family, a glaring display of the diversity that makes Brooklyn so amazing. We picked up 44 ounces of Sapporo for $8 at a nearby bodega, later to find out that 12 ounce beers in Barclays are going for $9. Whoa.
As we walked down Flatbush Avenue headed toward the arena, I realized I would need to chug the Poland Spring that came with my meal before entering the Center. I was also worried about my camera, which I would need to check in to Guest Services because of its detachable lens—this according to my mother, who is also a Barclays Center employee. After a grossly lackadaisical screening by the security guard, using a wand that did not even seem to be working, I waltzed in with my bottled water in hand and the rather large Nikon bulging inside of my jacket. Sam and I laughed at the breakdown, but such a fundamental lack of security makes the Barclays Center a potential safety hazard on any given night.
I’ll need a few more visits to the Barclays Center to truly examine and embrace the wizardry of the state-of-the-art complex. Walking through the crowded corridors Friday night was simply too surreal, almost as if our eyes were being deceived. Truthfully so, because this was a completely unprecedented experience: attending a professional basketball game in Downtown Brooklyn, where I’ve been traversing my entire life. I was born just a few blocks away at Methodist Hospital and watched as this gargantuan construct sprouted from the once-barren Atlantic Yards rubble, the same plot where Walter O’Malley sought to transplant the Brooklyn Dodgers before moving the team to Los Angeles in 1957. Even when watching the Nets on TV, hearing “Brooklyn is 3-7 from 3-point range tonight,” or seeing their name on graphic overlays is still jarringly weird. Change is good, right?
As we approached our seats, there was another new experience: Sam and I were held up at the section entry point to wait for the next dead ball to be seated. Never dealt with this when we were sitting in Section 427! The ultimate sign of our progression came when we finally got to our seats in Row 7 and I looked across the court to clearly see Jay-Z and Beyonce seated near the Nets bench. To be seated eye-level with stars like Ray Romano, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin explained to me why the tickets are valued at such a great price: being closer to the game allows the fan to consume a different sporting experience than someone sitting near the roof. The slick-haired character in the pink dress shirt in the row behind us, yelling out obscenities at Clippers players, paid for the opportunities for his words to be heard and potentially obstruct Jamal Crawford’s flow. Unfortunately for him, Jamal Crawford is a magician who cannot be stopped.
Year one of the Brooklyn Nets experience has been driven by the need to cultivate a committed fan base to recoup the expenditures of moving the team into the rustic Barclays Center. Sam and I concurred that there was a swathing aura of inauthenticity encircling the Brooklyn Nets, due greatly to the team’s lack of history and culture. At least for the 2012-13 season, attending a Nets game is a novelty activity to see what all the hype is about and ride Brooklyn’s newest rollercoaster.
Any Brooklyn authenticity the Nets exude stems from Jay-Z’s involvement with the team, certainly not from the cheaply-armored BrooklyKnight and the hyper-sexualized Brooklynettes dance troupe. Mr. Carter owns 1/15th of one percent of the team, but played a large formative role in the team’s brand positioning and visual presentation. Most of the arena music was provided by Kanye and Jay-Z, and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the Big Pimpin’ instrumental at an NBA game.
As the dancers tossed t-shirts in front of our sections and shook their juice, the same character from earlier, exclaimed “Dayum, Gina!” Not necessarily the grit and toughness Brooklyn is known for, but evidently the Brooklynettes are contributing to the fan experience and helping to build brand loyalty. However, their overtly sexual displays contradict with the fact that are thousands of children at every Nets game; no indictment on Brooklyn for this, because each franchise employs a female dance team to cater to and arouse the primarily male NBA demographic.
Let’s get to the only point that really matters in the discourse of the Brooklyn Nets: basketball. When the smoke clears and the fluff deflates and the marketing budgets start scaling back, all that will be left is the innovative hardwood floor, on which the Nets organization must build a winning team in order to sustain long-term success. There was a moment last night where I felt the future encroaching, with the Nets leading 79-74 with less than 2 minutes remaining: coming off of a key offensive rebound, Joe Johnson laces a sealing three and Barclays erupts. “Broooook-lynnnn” chants envelop the building, as multiethnic fans high-five each other and enjoy the revelry.
The Nets improved to 7-4 on the season as the winds of evolution continued to sweep through the borough. Good, bad, right or wrong, the Brooklyn Nets are here to stay and capture your hearts and minds. Spread love, but don’t believe the hype.